This article was originally published on Medium here.
“Do you know your own story? You lived it — and probably, you know very little of it,” says Dr. Dan Allender, professor of counseling psychology at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.
Allender believes telling your life story is so important that he wrote a book about it. To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future, is a compelling and insightful look at the importance of writing your life story in the context of the purpose and themes God has for your life.
“We will never know (our story) until we tell it,” Allender said. “You need to tell your story and you need to tell it with people who will ponder it well…(people who) will help you look at your own story and the implications for the present. Our past is being lived today. I need to know my story and its effect in the present.”
Your full story is revealed more and more as you tell it.
“To the degree, you know your story, you will come to love the face that (God) made. You will come to love your own story and to be able to use them for the larger story of God,” Allender explains.
Connecting Your Life to God’s Plan for Your Life
As a believer, Allender wants everyone to understand that God is both the Authority and the Author for each person — He writes the stories of our lives, and then shows us through our life stories the future purpose and goal He has for us.
Think about it this way. Your life doesn’t just have a story. Your life is a story.
Allender proposes, though, that most people haven’t or don’t know how to read and analyze their own stories. By looking at the situations and unique experiences that you’ve lived with a clear, objective eye, you begin to see certain themes rise to the forefront.
The relationship between odd experiences starts to become clear, and we see God’s hand in every area of our lives.
Our life stories give us clarity as we make decisions for our future, but, too often, we avoid and ignore the opportunities to really study how the past that’s led to our present has serious and exciting implications for our future.
Four Things You Need to Understand
While these don’t seem to be of great significance at first glance, understanding and implementing these four core issues will drastically shape the way you live your life and comprehension of what Allender is trying to accomplish through “To Be Told.”
“God is not merely the Creator of our life. He is also the Author of our life.”
The same God who painted the sunsets put each star in its place in the sky, and thoughtfully and orderly created the entire universe used the same artistic brilliance to give every single person a one-of-a-kind life story.
Should you happen to find someone who lived the exact same situations you’ve experienced, you’ll still never find anyone who had the same response. Our life stories are like our thumbprints, unique to each of us. God’s purpose in that, though, isn’t to just give us a cool story to tell our friends. Just like any other story reveals a characteristic of the author, God wants us to analyze our life stories to learn more about Him.
“Neither your life nor mine is a series of random scenes.”
In God, there are no coincidences. Nothing that has happened in your life is a surprise to God — He knows exactly what was supposed to happen, and He wants to use it to show us who He is, what He wants to do in our lives, and how He wants us to use those experiences.
“When I study and understand my life story, I can then join God as a coauthor.”
Truly learning what God’s working to accomplish in the stories of our lives, Allender says, is what will help us really understand and join God in accomplishing His will for our lives. He gives us the outline and expects us to fill in the details. He has the plot line sketched out — we are responsible for keeping it moving.
“There is the necessity and blessing of telling our story to others.”
Allender says that God is the Master Storyteller, but our lives, our stories, are meant to be told. We need to learn to both tell and listen, as listening encourages “others to know and tell and listen to God’s story as well as their own.”
Reading To Be Told: What You Can Expect
Allender breaks the book down into four separate components:
Your Name and Your Story
To really understand any story, you need to first be clear on the writer’s intentions. If you consider your life as a story God is actively writing in each minute, you see the definite need to read what God is writing. That involves learning who we are in God — not just who our parents, friends, and associates say we are.
We learn that God, who gives us a clean heart, has a name for each of us, and has a plan for the tragedies of our lives.
Reading Your Story
When you start reading your story, you find both passion and tragedy.
Passion defines us; tragedy shapes us.
When those combined with the call God places in your life, you see the themes of your life began to shine through, and understand how He is writing your life in a way that you’ll be able to take every experience, both good and bad, and join Him as a partner in writing your life story.
Writing Your Story
When Allender talks about writing your story, he does mean writing, on a literal level.
Part of understanding your story is finding people who will “ponder it well.”
They’ll ask questions, they’ll try to understand, they’ll challenge you to look at your situations from a new perspective, and they’ll encourage you to do the same.
Multiplying Your Story
Allender talks about giving your story away to give God glory, and encourages you to pray about your story, fast, and partake in story feasts that invite you and other storytellers to band together as a community, working together to create each other’s stories.
At the end of each chapter, he has provided a guide and encouragement to help the readers take the steps needed to really dig into their own stories.
He talks about different kinds of losses and reminds us that everyone experiences loss and disappointment. Allender has mentioned in interviews prior to writing the book that through a series of odd circumstances, he led people to Christ and even attended seminary without understanding what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Years later, a woman offered to teach him everything she knew about a specific type of abuse he hadn’t studied. A chance conversation with a good friend about 18 months after Allender began learning from the woman showed him that he had been in denial about this type of abuse in his own life.
In finding these deep and pointed truths about our lives, Allender notes that we are opening ourselves up for true healing.
When we reach that point of despair and desire to understand, we turn to God and find peace. We see God in the center of our struggle, orchestrating a situation that will bring us restoration and bring God glory.
Truth Be Told: I Loved To Be Told
I love the fact that you are the co-author of your life, that you have the power to write a better and different ending to your story.
This book on life storytelling changed my life — and I know it will do the same for you.
How do I know? I’m not alone in saying that this book promoted healing, motivation to continue writing my life story, and forging a closer bond with God.
Reviews across platforms and throughout the years have overwhelmingly said this book made them take a hard look at their lives and choose a different path for the future.
Allender’s writing is honest, straightforward, and easy to understand. He uses metaphors to make the storyline understandable and relatable and is engaging and interesting.
He doesn’t just tell you the reasons why, either. He includes the how-tos involved in true life storytelling, along with the analysis required to find your true calling, where your passion and tragedy meet to give you a new future outcome.